Dementia will affect 1 million Canadians by 2030: study

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A new report from the Alzheimer Society of Canada predicts nearly one million people in the country will be living with dementia by the end of the decade.


The report, “Navigating the Path Forward for Dementia in Canada,” says this represents more than a 65 per cent increase from the estimated 597,300 Canadians living with dementia in 2020.


That year, there were 124,000 new cases of dementia diagnosed in Canada, or 15 every hour. By 2030, the report says this will increase to 187,000 new cases annually, or 21 each hour.


As Canada’s population becomes increasingly older, the number of new cases each year will rise to more than 250,000 annually in the 2040s, the report predicts.


By 2050, the number of people living with dementia in Canada will increase to more than 1.7 million, nearly three times more compared to 2020.


About 1.6 per cent of the Canadian population had dementia in 2020. This is now expected to increase to 3.6 per cent by 2050, the report says.


“There is some hopeful news on reducing risk and delaying the onset of dementia,” the report says. “However, population aging in Canada means we will continue to see ongoing increases in the number of people affected by dementia.”


DEMENTIA MORE COMMON IN WOMEN


The report describes dementia as a set of symptoms caused by certain disruptions to healthy brain functioning. Symptoms may include memory loss, difficulties with attention, problem solving and language, changes in mood and behaviour, and issues with vision, balance and movement.


While the study’s authors describe Alzheimer’s disease as the illness that causes changes to brain structure years before these symptoms emerge, Alzheimer’s dementia refers to the later stage of the disease when those problems become evident.


Other types of dementia exist, but Alzheimer’s dementia is considered the most common, the report says.


Although a number of risk factors exist for dementia, the report says age is the most important, with most but not all people who develop dementia being older than 65. The risk of dementia roughly doubles every five years after 65, with nearly one in four Canadians diagnosed after 85.


Women, who tend to live longer than men do, make up a greater share of people living with dementia in Canada and around the world.


In 2020, approximately 61.8 per cent of people living with dementia were female, the report found. This gap is expected to increase to 63.1 per cent by 2050.


All provinces will see an increase in cases as long as current trends continue, the society says, although the situations will vary depending on demographics, migration patterns and risk factors for dementia.


RISK REDUCTION WOULD DELAY NEW CASES


As part of the study, the society calculated the number of hours invested by those, such as family members, friends and neighbours, who care for people with dementia.


There were 350,000 care partners in 2020 providing an average of 26 hours of care per week, the report says, amounting to 470 million hours of care in a year, or the equivalent of 235,000 full-time jobs.


Based on current projections, the study expects the number of care partners in Canada to increase to more than one million by 2050, providing nearly 1.4 billion hours of care in a year, or the equivalent of more than 690,000 full-time jobs.


The Alzheimer Society also calculated how many fewer new cases of dementia there would be if the risk of dementia were lowered generally for everyone.


Under these hypothetical scenarios, the society says delaying the onset of dementia by even one year would result in nearly 500,000 fewer new cases by 2050.


A 10-year delay, meanwhile, would lead to more than four million fewer new cases by the same year and reduce the number of hours needed for care by almost one billion annually.


The report cites another study, which found that 12 risk factors — lack of education, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, hypertension, alcohol misuse, obesity, smoking, depression, social isolation, physical inactivity, air pollution and diabetes — account for approximately 40 per cent of dementia cases worldwide.


The Alzheimer Society report adds that evidence also shows overlapping or multiple risk factors further increase the risk of dementia.


“We have an incomplete understanding of risk and protective factors for dementia development and the progression of dementia — more needs to be done,” the study’s authors write. “This is especially important as there is no known cure for dementia.” 

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